One of the foremost writers
in what has been dubbed “grit lit,” Larry Brown has
been lauded for his graphic, raw fiction about the rural Southstories
featuring characters who are ordinary and poor, and struggling with
such real-life issues as marital strife, alcoholism, suicide, and
the traumas of war. Born July 9, 1951, in Oxford, Mississippi, Brown
is sometimes compared to fellow Oxford resident William
Faulkner because of their similar origins and education:
both briefly attended the University
of Mississippi (without graduating), and both learned their
craft as writers in large measure by avid reading.
Brown worked in a number of jobs
over the years, including carpenter, lumberjack, fence builder,
carpet cleaner, housepainter, hay hauler, and store employee, but
he began his writing career during his career as a firefighter,
a job he held from 1973 to 1990, when he retired to write full-time.
First publishing stories in a number of magazines and journals,
Brown’s first book was a collection of stories, Facing the Music
(1988). The following year, he published his first novel, Dirty
Work (1989), which was inspired in part by his father’s experiences
in World War II.
fiction continued to chronicle the downtrodden and disheartened
denizens of the American South. The stories in Big Bad Love
(1990) depict marital malaise of varying degrees, while the novel
Joe (1991) teams up the title character, a hard-drinking
ex-convict who heads up a forest defoliation crew, with 15-year-old
Gary Jones, the son of a truly evil no-count drunk migrant worker;
despite the opinion of the local cops, both are essentially good
and just, and despite his own reluctance as a role model, Joe proves
to be just what Gary needs.
Other works of fiction by Brown
include Father and Son (1996) and Fay (2000). He
has also written several nonfiction works, including On Fire
(1993), about his work as a firefighter, and Billy Rays
Farm (2001), essays about his life and work as a writer.
Brown died November 24, 2004, at
his home near Oxford. He
53 years old.
Article first posted May
Updated November 2004.
Related Links & Info
Books of Chapel Hill features this
page on Larry Brown, which includes a biography of the writer,
reviews and descriptions of his work, and a “Larry Watch”
with news about Larry Brown.
Arts Commission features Larry Brown in a page
about narrative in its online exhibit Crossroads
of the Heart: Creativity and Tradition in Mississippi. The
page features audio of Brown reading part of his short story “Old
Frank and Jesus.”
- Facing the Music. (Short stories; includes “Facing
the Music,” first published in Mississippi Review, 1987,
“Kubuku Rides [This Is It],” “Boy and Dog,”
and “Julie: A Memory.”) Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books,
- Dirty Work. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books, 1989.
- Big Bad Love. (Short stories). Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin
- Joe. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books, 1991.
- Father and Son. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books,
- Fay. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books, 2000.
Browns work has also been anthologized in
numerous publications, including Best American Short Stories, 1989,
edited by Margaret Atwood and Shannon Ravenel (New York: Houghton, 1989),
and Kubuku Rides (This Is It).
- On Fire. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books, 1993.
- Billy Rays Farm: Essays. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin
Articles and Reviews:
- Bonetti, Kay. “An Interview with Larry Brown.” Missouri
Review 18.3 (1995): 79-107. Rpt in Conversations with American
Novelists: The Best Interviews from The Missouri Review and the American
Audio Prose Library. Ed. Kay Bonetti et al. Columbia, MO: University
of Missouri Press, 1997. 234-253.
- Brooks, Cleanth. “An Affair of Honor: Larry Brown’s Joe:
An Essay.” Chapel Hill: Algonquin, 1991.
- Farmer, Joy A. “The Sound and the Fury of Larry Brown’s
‘Waiting for the Ladies.’” Studies in Short Fiction
29.3 (1992): 315-322.
- Jones, Suzanne W. “Refighting Old Wars: Race Relations and
Masculine Conventions in Fiction by Larry Brown and Madison Smartt Bell.”
The Southern State of Mind. Ed. Jan Nordby Gretlund. Columbia,
SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1999. 107-120.
- Ketchin, Susan. “An Interview with Larry Brown.” Southern
Quarterly 32.2 (1994): 95-109.
- ---. “Larry Brown: Proceeding Out from Calamity.” The
Christ-Haunted Landscape: Faith and Doubt in Southern Fiction. Jackson:
University Press of Mississippi, 1994. 100-139.
- LaRue, Dorie. “Interview with Larry Brown: Breadloaf ’92.”
Chattahoochee Review 13.3 (1993): 39-56.
- Lyons, Paul. “Larry Brown’s Joe and the Uses and
Abuses of the ‘Region’ Concept.” Studies in American
Fiction 25.1(1997): 101-24.
- Manley, Michael S. “Larry Brown: Telling Stories.” Delicious
Imaginations: Conversations with Contemporary Writers. Ed. Sarah
Griffiths and Kevin J. Kehrwald. West Lafayette, IN: NotaBell Books,
- Prevost, Verbie Lovorn. “Larry Brown’s Dirty Work:
A Study of Man’s Responsibility for Suffering.” Tennessee
Philological Bulletin: Proceedings from the Annual Meeting of the Tennessee
Philological Association 30 (1993): 21-27.
- Richardson, Thomas J. “Larry Brown.” Contemporary
Fiction Writers of the South: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook.
Ed. Joseph M. Flora and Robert Bain. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1993.
- Staunton, John. Character, Community, and the Form of Ethics in
Four American Regionalists: Alice Cary, Kate Chopin, Walker Percy, Larry
Brown. Diss. Fordham University, 1999. DA9926918.
- ---. “Shadowing Grace in the Post-Southern South: ‘A
Roadside Resurrection’ and Larry Browns Narratives of Witness.”
Religion & Literature 33.1 (2001): 43-74.
- Yow, Dede. “Larry Brown.” The Columbia Companion to
the Twentieth-Century American Short Story. Ed. Blanche H. Gelfant.
New York: Columbia UP, 2000. 172-175.
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